For many, choosing whom to vote for is a matter of feel. We decide if we feel comfortable with one candidate over another, perhaps taking into account his or her positions on certain issues that personally effect us. If we are Catholic (or any Christian who seriously strives to imitate Christ), our criteria must rise above this very cursory and self-centered assessment. We are called to use a well-formed conscience and test the candidate's positions on that conscience. As my hometown Bishop, Most Rev. Richard Malone wrote recently:
We recognize that there can be proposals for addressing some pressing social concerns, such as the economy, immigration reform, or retirement security, on which people of good will can reach different conclusions. This is the exercise of prudential judgment, which demands that we never justify an immoral means to achieve a good end.
Prudential judgment does not come into play with every issue that confronts us. Not every course of action is morally acceptable. There are situations in which what is being proposed is an intrinsic evil. Intrinsic evils are actions that must always be opposed because they are always, by their nature, gravely opposed to the will of God. Examples of intrinsic evils are abortion, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, genocide, torture and racism. Intrinsic evils undercut the dignity of the human person. If we think about it for a moment, we can see how all of the life issues are connected. Erosion of respect for the life of any person or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life.
Without a doubt, the conscientious Catholic faces many complex and difficult decisions in preparing to vote. That is why an informed conscience, and confidence in the moral wisdom of our Church, is so important. A Catholic may never vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil if, in voting for her or him, one is doing so in support of that immoral position. Conversely, a Catholic cannot justify voting for a candidate who opposes an intrinsic evil if that candidate is known to be indifferent to other serious moral issues involving human life.
There may be times when we find it necessary to vote for a candidate who holds an unacceptable position on a grave moral issue for other grave moral reasons.It is clear to see why many Catholics become confused, even when they know the intrinsic evils they must not implicitly condone by way of their vote. In the final analysis, a well-formed conscience will help any voter to make the best moral use of their vote for all humans, keeping in mind the priority that must be given to avoiding candidates who support intrinsically evil acts. This takes a great deal of courage and love for God, sacrificing what may be economically or socially convenient for us. Yet, if we need any inspiration, we need look no further than Jesus upon the Cross. If He laid down His life for all humans, surely I can sacrifice my comfort, if that's what it means to protect the dignity of life.
May you all exercise your right to vote come November 6th and, as with everything, may you glorify God in so doing!